Tag Archives: Childhood Trauma

How To Calm Ourselves At A Sensory, Motor And Cognitive Level

If we have suffered significant childhood trauma, it is extremely common to find that, as adults, we can become emotionally upset as a result of (seemingly) small provocations, we experience particularly intense emotions when we are upset, and we have great difficulty calming ourselves down (‘calming ourselves down’ is often called ‘self-regulating’ by psychologists) once we are upset. This will be particularly true if, in connection with our traumatic early lives, we have gone on to develop, as adults, borderline personality disorder (BPD) or complex post-traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD).

This tendency to feel intense emotions when upset, together with the inability to self-regulate such emotions effectively, stems from a traumatic childhood that deprived us of developing the normal ‘self-soothing skills’ that those who experienced relatively stable upbringings are usually able to develop (as I have discussed at length elsewhere on this site – e.g. in my article entitled The Effects Of Childhood Trauma On The Limbic System).

THE THREE COMPONENTS OF EMOTIONS :

Our emotions are made up of three components :

  1. THE SENSORY COMPONENT
  2. THE MOTOR COMPONENT
  3. THE COGNITIVE COMPONENT

Let’s look at each of these in turn :

1. SENSORY EXPERIENCING :

When we feel an emotion, one component of it involves biological / physiological alterations within the body, such as breathing (when we are anxious it tends to be fast and shallow and we may hyperventilate (to read my article on the bi-directional relationship between anxiety and hyperventilation click here).

Other sensory aspects of the experiencing of emotions include heart-rate, blood pressure and digestion (IBS and stress are often related).

Being aware of such biological / physiological sensations within our body is technically referred to as : interoception.

2. MOTOR ACTIVITY :

At the motor level, emotions such as anxiety may manifest as physical tension of various muscle groups such as the muscles of the face and shoulders.

3. COGNITIVE COMPONENT :

Emotions also interact with our cognitions (i.e. thought processes). A simple example is that constantly thinking the worst will happen is likely to make us feel constantly anxious and fearful.

IMPLICATIONS FOR THERAPY :

It logically follows, therefore, that in accordance with the three components of emotions described above, we may intervene therapeutically in an attempt to ameliorate unpleasant emotions such as anxiety at the three corresponding levels : the sensory level, the motor level and the cognitive level.

Treating our anxiety at all three levels can, therefore, be viewed as a kind of triple-pronged attack.

Examples Of Therapies Specifically Targeting Each Of The Three Levels :

At the sensory level, examples of therapies include breathing exercises, relaxation exercises and visualization/hypnosis

At the motor level, examples of therapies include massage, progressive muscle relaxation and physical exercise

At the cognitive level, examples of therapies include cognitive therapy and  cognitive hypnosis

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

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Prolonged Exposure Therapy And Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Major symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex posttraumatic stress disorder (cPTSD)click here to read about the difference between these two conditions – are fear, anxiety and even terror induced by :

– situations related to the traumatic experience

– people related to the traumatic experience

– places related to the traumatic experience

– activities related to the traumatic experience

Prolonged Exposure Therapy Involves Two Specific Types Of Exposure To Trauma-Related Phenomena :

a) In Vivo Exposure

b) Imaginal Exposure

In Vivo Exposure :

Prolonged exposure therapy works by encouraging the individual with PTSD / cPTSD, in a supportive manner, very gradually, to confront these situations / people / places / activities whilst, at the same time, feeling safe, secure and calm. Because this part of the therapy involves exposure to ‘real life’ situations / people / places / activities it is called in vivo exposure.

This is so important because avoiding these situations / people / places / activities, whilst reducing the individual’s anxiety in the short-term, in the longer-term simply perpetuates, and, potentially, intensifies, his/her fear of these things.

Imaginal Exposure:

The therapy also involves the PTSD / cPTSD sufferer talking over details and memories of the traumatic experience in a safe environment and whilst in a relaxed frame of mind (the therapist can help to induce a relaxed frame of mind by teaching the patient/client breathing exercises and/or physical relaxation techniques; hypnosis can also be used to help induce a state of relaxation). Because this part of the therapy ‘only’ involves mental exposure to the trauma (i.e. thinking about it in one’s mind), it is called imaginal exposure and can help alleviate intense emotions connected to the original trauma (e.g. fear and anger).

Both in vivo and imaginal exposure to the trauma-related stimuli are forms of desensitizing and habituating the patient / client to them, thus reducing his/her symptoms of PTSD / cPTSD.

How Effective Is Prolonged Exposure Therapy?

Prolonged exposure therapy is a type of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and research into the treatment of PTSD suggests it is the most effective treatment currently available.

What Is The Duration Of The Treatment?

The length of time a patient / client spends in treatment varies in accordance with his/her needs and his/her therapist’s particular approach. However, the usual duration of the treatment is between two and four months, comprising weekly sessions of approximately ninety minutes each.

On top of this, the patient / client will need to undertake some therapeutic exercises/activities in his/her own time, set by the therapist as ‘ homework assignments’. These assignments will include listening to recordings of imaginal exposure therapy sessions.

RESOURCES :

The National Center For PTSD has developed a PROLONGED EXPOSURE APP, or PE APP. Click here for further information and download instructions.

eBook :

 

Above eBook now available from Amazon for instant download. Other titles available. Click here for further information.
 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

 

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Early Trauma’s Effect On Development Of Id And Ego

According to psychodynamic theory, originally associated with Sigmund Freud (but modernized by various psychologists since), the most crucial part of our psychological development takes place in the earliest years of our lives, between birth and about five years old.

A central concept of psychodynamic theory is that our minds comprise three parts, namely the id, the ego and the superego, which I briefly describe below:

THE ID : According to Freud, the id can be viewed as the primitive part of the mind, driven by biological needs (such as for food and sex), which demand instant gratification ; it is completely unsocialized and its operations are unconscious. It is also described as acting according to the ‘pleasure principle‘ which means it is constantly and potently urging us to gain pleasure, irrespective of consequences (including harmful effects on others and harmful effects on ourselves).

THE SUPEREGO : Basically, the superego represents our conscience which we form by internalizing a sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ (or morality) derived from the influence of our parents, education, social environment and culture. Freud stated that whilst some of the operation of the superego is conscious, much of it also occurs on an unconscious level. Our ‘punishment’ for transgressing the superego’s exacting moral standards is guilt.

THE EGO : Freud said that whilst the id operates according to the ‘pleasure principle’, the ego operates according to the ‘reality principle’. Essentially, its task is to mediate between the deeply conflicting demands of the id, the superego and the outside world (and it is this constant need to mediate and reach an unending series of compromises that contributes much to the inner turmoil, tension and anxiety being human must necessarily entail, Freud helpfully informs us). It acts according to reason and will try to inhibit impulses that, if acted upon, would lead to harm; in other words, it takes into account the possible consequences of our actions.

I remember, as a first year psychology undergraduate, our lecturer telling us that the ego’s job could, perhaps not wholly inaccurately, be compared to that of a referee who finds himself constantly obliged to oversee a fight between a ‘crazed chimpanzee’ and ‘a puritanical, pious and forbidding grandmother.’

 

Above : The perpetual battle between the id and superego, with the ego always having to act mediator.

It is theorized that if the infant is traumatized in early life, through lack of adequate care, s/he will fail to learn to control his/her basic drives and impulses and the development of his/her ego will be impaired. This can lead to various problems including :

  • poor ability to tolerate frustration
  • poor ability to inhibit impulses that may lead to harm (too likely to act in accordance with the dictates of the id due to deficits in ego development)
  • lack of consideration concerning the possible effects of one’s actions upon others / not taking into account the needs of others (including, as an infant, impaired ability to pick up on verbal and visual cues of the mother / primary care-giver)
  • impaired judgment
  • impaired ability to think logically and with clarity

It is thought that these problems occur as inadequate care that traumatizes the infant can damage the actual physical development of certain vital brain regions.

The infant who experiences satisfactory care, attention and nurturing, on the other hand, will learn to better control his drives and impulses, having learned from the mother to keep him/herself relatively calm and not exhibit unwarranted distress if his/her biological needs happen to not be instantaneously met (this ability is known as the competence to ‘self-regulate’).

Many of the symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD), which is linked to childhood trauma, reflect some the symptoms listed above.

 

eBooks:

          

Above eBooks now available for instant download on Amazon. Click here or on above images for further details.

 

OTHER RESOURCES :

Traumatic childhoodIMPROVE IMPULSE CONTROL

 

Traumatic childhoodCONTROL YOUR EMOTIONS

 

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

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When Parents Threaten Their Child With Violence

I have written elsewhere about how my mother was prone to unpredictable, unprovoked outbursts of extreme hostility when I was very young but it is only now I feel I want to be a little more specific – something has prevented me from going into detail up until now, although that ‘something’ is very hard to define, despite the fact I have (I hope!) gained a fair amount of insight into my past and its effects upon me.

When she was angry my mother’s verbal rage knew no limits ; her frequently repeated threats or hurtful statements included :

  • ‘I feel evil towards you! Evil!’ (The second ‘evil’ delivered in a particularly melodramatic, emphatic and malevolent tone)
  • ‘I feel I could knife you!’
  • ‘I feel murderous towards you!’  (or, if I was ‘lucky’, she’d be slightly more restrained and scream at me the rather more banal phrase, ‘I wish to Christ I’d never bloody had you!’ (though delivered in a tone of devastating conviction and palpable authenticity; one could almost feel the hot waves of hatred emanating from her).

(There may well be still worse examples which I have either repressed or which occurred when I was too young for them to form long-term memories – I simply can’t know; but this, of course, is true of everyone).

At the time, being on the receiving end of these, how shall I put it, rather less than maternally loving statements, I think I felt very little; just numb, in fact, as if everything had gone hazy and foggy. It seems I must have mentally shut down as a form of self-preservation; this is a psychological defense mechanism I now know to be called ‘dissociation‘).

For years, even decades, I kept these memories at the very back of my mind, so to speak, but, of course, that will have only worsened their psychological effect.

It is only now, decades later (I was about twelve-years-old when my mother’s verbal aggression was at its most vehement, just as I was entering puberty) that I feel ready to attempt to mentally process such experiences. However, painful this may be, avoiding doing so is likely to be even more so.

Very few of the articles I publish on this site are so personal and I apologize for, once again, indulging myself. However, my next post will be more objective and its topic directly related this one : ‘The Effects Of Parental Threats Of Violence Upon The Child.’

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Need For Fame Can Stem From Childhood Trauma

 

 

Our sense of self and true identity is most heavily influenced, according to modern psychodynamic theory, by the quality of our relationship with our primary carer (most frequently the mother) during our first year of life.

Those of us who experienced a poor quality of care during this critical developmental period, such as not having been treated with sensitivity or empathy, not having had our fundamental emotional needs met, or because we were abused or otherwise neglected, are at the greatest risk of developing a poor sense of self-identity in adulthood (i. e. a feeling of not knowing, or being uncertain about, ‘who we really are’).

 

Fame As A Coping Strategy :

Some people attempt to deal with their weak sense of identity by excessive use of drink and drugs, not infrequently leading to addiction.

However, others, to compensate for their feelings of lack of identity, may become addicted to the feelings, emotions and sensations that being famous can induce.

For example, being recognized in the street (although in many ways annoying, or even distressing) can provide an ephemeral sense of identity and temporarily heighten one’s feelings of self-esteem and personal worth.

Similarly, being on stage in front of enraptured, adoring, possibly hysterical fans floods the celebrity’s brain with chemicals such as oxytocin and dopamine, providing an almost transcendental ‘buzz’ which no drug, it is said, can accurately recreate.

 

But Who Am I?

However, the problem is that part of being famous frequently involves adopting a persona, or, to use a more clinical expression, false self.

Because it is the false self that is recognized by fans, rather than the real self, identity confusion is intensified; the real self is neglected and remains unknown, increasing feelings of isolation and loneliness. The famous person may then become even more out of touch, or dissociated from, who s/he ‘really is’.

Indeed, famous people frequently lament the fact that their fans think they know them but, in reality, have no idea of what they’re really like. In fact, the persona and ‘true self’ may be radically different – the former confident, even swaggering, and the latter, the real self, deeply insecure and emotionally fragile.

 

Effects On Relationships:

The false self / persona may become so dominant (in effect, the famous person may take to ‘hiding behind’ it) that people who knew the famous person before his/her success may no longer ‘recognize’ him/her and become alienated. This can then lead to the breakdown of such relationships, leaving the famous person feeling more vulnerable than ever and more reliant still on unhealthy relationships with ‘hangers on’ who serve only to encourage the development of the false self.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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The Adversity Hypothesis : Posttraumatic Growth

the adversity hypothesis

‘He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.’

AESCHYLUS, AGAMEMNON 


The vast majority of studies examining the effects of trauma on the individual have concentrated on the negative effects such as depression, anxiety, phobias, flashbacks, nightmares, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and so on. However, more recently, an increasing number of studies have focused on how the experience of trauma may, in some ways, actually benefit us.

Indeed, the ADVERSITY HYPOTHESIS puts forward the proposal that adversity and suffering are necessary for optimum human development.

Closely linked to the adversity hypothesis is the concept of posttraumatic growth (PTG).

The theory of posttraumatic growth suggests that some individuals who undergo traumatic experiences find that they grow and develop as a person in beneficial ways once the trauma is over. These benefits often include :

  1. Discovering/developing strengths and abilities that weren’t apparent prior to the traumatic experience and becoming a more confident person as a result.
  2. Feeling stronger as a person in the knowledge one can survive great difficulty and suffering.
  3. Developing a greater appreciation of life once the trauma is over.
  4. Strengthening of pre-existing valuable and meaningful friendships/bonds/relationships (the colloquial expression ‘finding out who your real friends are’ is of relevance here).
  5. Gaining of a better perspective on life.
  6. Gaining insight into life’s priorities and what one really wants to do with it to make it fulfilling – often leading to decisive and positive life-change.
  7. Gaining a deeper insight into life in general leading to spiritual growth and development.

Indeed, there may well be other benefits, but the above list represents the main ones so far highlighted by the research carried out to date.

It is also worth noting that research carried out by Pennebaker (1990) suggests that if we are able to ‘make sense of’ our traumatic experiences in a way that is meaningful to us we are particularly likely to benefit from posttraumatic growth.

Also, research by Helgeson (2006) suggests that individuals are most likely to start to benefit from posttraumatic growth if their traumatic experiences ceased two years ago or more.

COPING PROCESS OR OUTCOME?

Whether posttraumatic growth represents an active coping process or is a more passive outcome of the experiencing of trauma (or, indeed,  is a combination of the two) is still a matter of debate amongst psychologists; notwithstanding this, not everyone who experiences trauma also experiences posttraumatic growth.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Does Your Personality Feel ‘Fragmented’?

Some people who experienced significant childhood disorder go on to develop dissociative identity disorder (DID) which causes the different aspects of the person’s personality to be poorly integrated and fragmented which leads to them operating relatively independently of one another.

These fragmented aspects of the personality are often simply referred to as ‘parts’ by psychologists who treat those suffering from dissociative identity disorder (DID).

These parts are often in conflict with each other and may not accept or even acknowledge one another but, nevertheless, influence one another to some degree. They are NOT separate personalities (though may feel like they are) but different facets of the person’s personality which have failed to mesh smoothly together into a cohesive, cooperative, whole personality system.

These different parts of the personality vary according to the particular individual suffering from dissociative identity disorder (DID) but usually have the same basic functions. According to the psychologist and expert in DID, Boon, a typical example of the fragmented parts the poorly integrated personality of person suffering from DID may be made up of are as follows :

   – the ‘daily functioning’ part
   – the ‘young’ part
   – the ‘helper’ part
   – the ‘angry’ part
   – the ‘ashamed’ part

Let’s briefly examine each of these five parts in turn :

The Daily Functioning Part:

This is often the main part of the personality that operates in order to allow one to function on a day-to-day basis.

The Young Part:

This part of the personality may be ‘stuck’ at stage of infant, toddler, child or adolescent. It contains traumatic memories and may experience feelings of dependence, intense need of protection, safety, security and comfort, distrust of others and extreme fear of abandonment and rejection.

This part may also be in conflict with other parts, which are repelled by its neediness and vulnerability.

The Helper Part :

This part attempts to sooth and calm the traumatized ‘inner child.’

The Angry Part :

This part developed at the time of the trauma for the purpose of self-defense and self-protection. Again, it is in conflict with other parts which find it unacceptable.

The Part That Imitates The Abuser :

This part behaves in similar ways to how one’s abuser used to behave towards one and often, like the ‘angry part’, expresses rage and hostility

The Ashamed Part :

This part comprises emotions and behaviours that the individual has labelled as ‘shameful’

NB It is theorized that these parts arose as a result of arrested emotional development and are -stuck in trauma-time.’

According to Boon, these relatively independent parts remain fragmented and dissociated as the they are in conflict with one another and some parts find other parts unacceptable.

The individual needs to come to an accommodation with each of these parts and empathize, in a self-compassionate way, with the reason why they developed (ie in response to early life trauma). Only then can these parts become reconciled with one another, amalgamated and healthily integrated into a cohesive personality and start to express themselves in helpful ways (prior to successful integration they can often generate unhelpful and self-destructive behaviours).

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

 

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BPD, Object Relations Theory And Splitting.

BPD, object relations theory, splitting

The OBJECTS RELATIONS THEORY of borderline personality disorder was proposed by Kohut at the beginning of the 1970s and is a modern psychoanalytic theory.

Object Relations Theory states that BPD can be traced back to an individual’s early (from the age of approximately 18 months to 36 months) dysfunctional relationship with his/her mother.

What Is The Nature Of This Dysfunctional Relationship Between The Infant And The Mother?

According to Kohut, the problem lies in how the mother relates to the infant :

  • she reinforces the infant’s ‘clingy’, ‘dependent’ and ‘regressive’ behaviour

BUT

  • withdraws love and affection when the child attempts to assert his/her individuality and separate personality

The result of this dysfunctional interaction between the mother and child is that the child develops a confusion about where the psychological boundary lies between him/herself and his/her mother.

This confusion, in turn, leads to yet more confusion in that the child goes on to have problems identifying the psychological boundaries that lie between him/her and others in general.

Abandonment Depression :

The mother’s tendency to withdraw her love from the child when s/he attempts to assert his/her separate personality and individuality causes the child to experience ABANDONMENT DEPRESSION and s/he is likely to be plagued by this depression throughout his/her life (Masterson, 1981).

SPLITTING :

Such early experiences contribute towards the individual developing a perception of other people as being either ALL GOOD or ALL BAD (Kernberg); in other words, s/he sees others in terms of black and white – there are no shades of grey.

‘GOOD’ people are seen as people who will keep the individual ‘safe’, whereas ‘BAD’ people are seen as ones who will re-trigger his/her early experience of ABANDONMENT DEPRESSION.

THIS PHENOMENON IS KNOWN AS ‘SPLITTING’ AND OPERATES ON AN UNCONSCIOUS LEVEL.

However, whether s/he perceives another as ‘ALL GOOD’ or ‘ALL BAD’ does not stay constant; his/her perception of others FLUCTUATES FROM ONE POLAR OPPOSITE TO THE OTHER (this is technically known as lacking ‘object constancy’).

Thus, an individual suffering from BPD may, at times, behave as if s/he ‘loves and adores’ another but, then, suddenly and dramatically, switch to behaving as if s/he ‘hates and despises’ this same individual, without objective reason.

Needless to say, this can be highly confusing and bewildering from the perspective of the person on the receiving end of such wildly and unpredictably vacillating emotions.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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